Brunswick judge’s lawyer releases full letter accusing “This American Life” of libel
12:40 pm, April 15th, 2011
The Mercer University law professor representing a Brunswick judge whose drug court practices were blasted on a national public radio program has released his full letter accusing the program of libel.
David Oedel sent a copy of the letter to the Daily Report at our request. He is representing Judge Amanda Williams, the subject of a March 25 episode of “This American Life,” which said the practices of her drug court “violate the basic philosophy of all drug courts.”
In a 14-page letter to the show’s host, Ira Glass, Oedel said Glass’ reporting on Williams could not be protected by New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that even false reporting on public figures cannot support a libel claim unless the journalist acted with “actual malice.”
“I stand ready to discuss your respective liabilities and possible strategies for settlement short of litigation,” Oedel wrote, “but I must warn you that we are moving forward with legal action.”
Glass did not immediately respond to a request for comment we sent by email.
Oedel asked the Daily Report to make note of two inaccuracies he discovered in his letter to Glass after writing it. Here is what Oedel wrote:
“First, the four percent recidivism number for the Georgia drug court at issue is based on convictions, not re-arrests. The comparative national numbers I cited in the letter were re-arrest figures, not conviction figures. In our press release, the comparison was corrected to be apples-to-apples: 5.5 percent re-arrested at three years for the Georgia drug court, compared with 16 percent nationally at one year and 25 percent at two years. It’s roughly the same but the letter was technically inaccurate by about one percent.
“The second inaccuracy: Fulton County’s drug court has recently begun to accept some first-offenders. I’m not sure that Fulton’s change would make any difference in the statistical comparison proposed by Mr. Glass, though, because it was unclear what period Mr. Glass was relying on in drawing the statistical distinction between the two courts’ participation rates.”